Mary Anne Henry’s opening statement in the second trial began where her first one left off. She even started with the same first sentence. “One shot fired from a gun held by the defendant, John Peel, started what has been called the Investor tragedy.” This time, though, her words came over the objections of the defense. Phillip Weidner had filed a protective order seeking to preclude the state from “accusing” Peel of killing the victims. He was only turned back at the last minute.
Henry presented a simple chronology, one that described the events surrounding the murders and how they implicated John Peel. She did not shrink from the unflattering failures of the police. She admitted that, “the troopers made one critical mistake that affected the way the investigation we conducted for an entire year.” That mistake, she said, was their false assumption that John Peel had been eliminated as a suspect.
Henry also pointed at witnesses who withheld incriminating information. To the reality of a fire that consumed nearly all the physical evidence. To the apparent lies and evasions of John Peel. None of that was new. Yet her opening statement was considerably better than the one she gave two years previous — streamlined, more focused, free of the dead weight details that had eclipsed her essential story.
Most importantly, Henry’s team had new evidence for the second trial. Henry confidently announced that they’d identified all eight people on board the Investor. All were dead.
There was more startling news.
John Peel, she said, had confessed to the murders in 1983. Then she let them in on the dirty little secret. John Peel, she asserted, had admitted to killing both Mark Coulthurst and Dean Moon. She aimed that last bit at Phillip Weidner. He of the constant refrain that Moon was the actual killer.
Defense Takes Its Turn
The following day was Phillip Weidner’s turn. The essence of Weidner’s opening statement at the second trial was unchanged. He charged that John Peel was the innocent victim of overzealous police efforts to solve a horrible crime. And he had an entirely different take on the mistakes made during the course of the murder investigation.
Frightening but untrue accusations…Defense Attorney Phillip Weidner
“These frightening yet untrue accusations are based on self-fulfilling prophecies and tunnel vision,” Weidner insisted, “which, in turn, are dependent upon speculation and conjecture with no foundation in facts or real evidence. Because of these mistakes, a reasonable doubt exists and will always remain.”
As Weidner addressed the jury, Dean Guaneli — who’d joined the prosecution team for the second trial — steadily objected to the defense attorney’s recitation of official misconduct. Guaneli said Weidner should stick to the evidence.
Judge Carpeneti permitted a brief foray into what he called “the defense theory of the case,” but as Weidner moved through his opening, it was clear his strategy was going to be even more aggressive this time around.
Excerpts from the unpublished original manuscript, “Sailor Take Warning,” by Leland E. Hale. That manuscript, started in 1992 and based on court records from the Alaska State Archive, served as the basis for “What Happened in Craig.”
Copyright Leland E. Hale (2020). All rights reserved.